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Returning Astronaut Awaits Family Reunion Foale To Get Reacquainted With Wife, Two Children

Ian Foale couldn’t believe it when his mommy told him that his father would be home soon.

Ian, 3, could barely speak when his father, astronaut Michael Foale, moved into space station Mir in May.

But this time, Ian was able to respond to his mother: “No, no, daddy’s in space.”

At least he was in space. Ian’s daddy is finally back on Earth. The space shuttle Atlantis returned him to his family with a smooth landing at Kennedy Space Center at 2:55 p.m. PDT Monday.

After 145 days living on the problem-plagued Mir, Foale really could use a beer, he said while still in orbit.

But he couldn’t get one Monday. Alcohol is not permitted on government installations such as the space center.

Foale will get his beer today, along with other items missing from Mir: sunshine, sand, sea, wind and especially wife, Rhonda; daughter, Jenna, 5; and Ian. He’ll spend private family time at a beach house.

“He really wants to get to the sun and the wind and the water,” Rhonda Foale said Monday.

Mir did provide Foale with a sense of adventure, however. During his stay, Mir had a near-fatal crash with a cargo ship and numerous equipment breakdowns.

But that is behind him, and now his family awaits.

“My priority now is to spend more time with my young children over the next year or two,” Michael Foale said last week.

Ian has changed. When Foale left, his son barely spoke. Now, he’s speaking in full sentences.

“I want to talk to him in person,” Foale said from Mir.

Ian will be ready, his mother said.

“I think he’ll just be thrilled and absolutely want to just smother daddy,” she said. “He’s going to leap on daddy.”

Rhonda Foale is waiting for her time with her husband. The Foale family got only a few minutes together Monday night, but Rhonda Foale is thinking about a return to Houston. She has lined up a baby sitter, new restaurants and jazz clubs.

“I’ve been telling Mike all about this,” she said. “There’s lots of opportunities for us to go out on dates.”

Her husband has the same plans, saying he wants to “get to know my wife again, date her again, maybe marry her again.”

Foale was supposed to arrive Sunday, but clouds kept Atlantis in orbit one more day and threatened to do the same Monday before clearing just enough for the shuttle to land.

One extra day in Florida was fun. But the Foale family didn’t want the wait to drag on any longer.

Often, the children expect presents from business trips, but not this time.

“They usually ask him for something when he goes somewhere,” Rhonda Foale said. “But they know there’s no hope.”


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